June 25, 2007 -- A new study published Sunday in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases said the supplement echinacea may help bolster the immune system more than previously thought and may shorten and even prevent colds.
"We showed that patients who took echinacea could decrease the risk of developing a cold by 58 percent as well as decrease the duration of a cold by over a day and half," said Dr. Craig Coleman of the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy.
Echinacea comes from the purple coneflower plant. It is made into teas and pills that are said to help build cold resistance. Coleman and his colleagues analyzed 1,600 patients from 14 previous studies on the herb.
"When you combine them together, you get a very nice conglomerate," Coleman said.
The World Health Organization recognized echinacea as a cold treatment in 1999. But other studies have shown opposite results. In 2000, German scientists reported echinacea could help treat colds, but not prevent them. And a 2005 New England Journal of Medicine study, which included more than 400 patients, said echinacea had no effects on colds.
But Health Magazine's Samantha Heller said echinacea isn't for everyone.
"It should not be used by people with compromised immune systems, pregnant or lactating women," she said. "Since they're not regulated, you don't always know what you're getting."
To help make sure you're getting the real thing look for a label from the United States Pharmacopeia (USP). It is an independent group that puts a seal of approval on supplements.